Exhibition MANUFACTUUR 3.0 searches for new production models in a fast changing world. Digital revolutions, ecological awareness and shifts in the fields of work and labour encourage us to rethink the traditional industrial production model. MANUFACTUUR 3.0 brings designers and artists together to work around alternative production scenarios. The exhibition functions as a production platform, continuously in progress.
Text Evelien Bracke
I don’t think we should optimize the system, we should change the system. Normally, as a designer, you always get the wrong question. You then try to find the very best answer to the wrong question, but the very best answer to the wrong question is the wrong answer. And why do we get the wrong questions? Because we always try to optimize the system. But the step we have to take is transform the system. – Thomas Rau
We are living in times of radical technological, economic, environmental and social change. Every day we see, experience or read about a world in transition: existing systems such as the linear economy and the industrial production model are under severe pressure. Natural resources are scarce, waste issues are growing and social and ethical standards are out of balance.
The combination of digital revolutions and a stronger ecological awareness amongst others incite change and a rethinking of the principal logic of the production system. In the current economic system, in which commercial interests still come first, products have a limited lifespan, meaning consumers often need to buy new ones. Printers, washing machines and toasters are after a certain period of use in need of replacement, increasing the mountain of waste. That same logic makes long lasting products uninteresting for the producer. Yet there exists a light bulb that has been burning for more than 106 years at a fire station in California. This Centennial Light shows that products can indeed be designed to last long(er).
The current economy largely consists of linear chains, from the extraction area and the manufacturer through retail, up to the consumer. Such linear economy is an exception in the natural and human history, because the economy has not always been linear. Throughout history recycling and circular models are present in various forms. During the war, for instance, radio and newspapers promoted preserving potato peels as fodder to keep milk production going. In the long term stability is the rule and growth the exception.
Alternatives to the linear model and the basic logic of the industrial production become apparent in circular models, the digitally inspired Maker Movement (digicraft) and the emergence of local initiatives with emphasis on traditional, local production (handicraft). These phenomena breath the same zeitgeist, characterized by a transition to new models and systems. Inspired by the desire for radical change a new landscape of values arises. Concepts and terms are in constant evolution and offer an exciting toolbox for designers and artists.
We are witnessing a shift in culture. It marks a change in the way we look at our world, what we value, and how we wish to shape our living environments accordingly. – Michiel Schwarz
In MANUFACTUUR 3.0 these evolving concepts form a recurring reference landscape and a word cloud. The words refer to issues and concerns within the exhibition and suggest the definition of values and changes in our current time. The word cloud contains terms such as connectedness, commons, proportionality, co-design, circularity, local, technology, share, digital fabrication, internet of things, … This collection is like a mental pad present throughout the exhibition. Many words and values are also part of the current revival of ideas from the 70s.
How can designers, architects and artists generate insights in this changing environment and contribute to new production models? How can they reveal problems and simultaneously feed the debate on which future is desirable, what society and what types of production to pursue? Given the complexity of the subject, various alternatives and proposals are put forward. A large part of it places itself within the digitization of the production process, with technological developments, the Maker Movement and Fab Labs. Digital revolutions have a great impact on our daily lives and create new forms of participation, communication, transparency and peer-to-peer collaborations, which translate into production models. In the past decade we found ways to invent, to make and to work together, all on the Internet. Now those lessons are being applied onto the real world. Designers and users build machines and look for alternatives to mass production and distribution. On the one hand there is the search for autarky: making products for personal use. On the other hand defunct local production force is being regained in the form of thousands of smaller businesses and initiatives aimed at niche markets.
Hacking Households, an ongoing collaboration of independent designers, searches for alternatives to production models of household objects. Electronic devices have a limited durability with a design that is not easily repaired or modified. Producing devices as open hardware, according to the principle of open source software, ensures that products can be shared, modified, repaired and transformed into other objects.
Although digital production models and the Maker Movement are referred to as the basis for a radical change in production and a third industrial age, the fact remains that this movement is currently in a niche. In Office of Shared Knowledge Eugenia Morpurgo tries to build a bridge between open source knowledge and production systems and potential users. How to implement digital fabrication for wider social innovation, and, for instance, health care, education and food production?
Other examples focus on local and artisanal qualities. They invest in re-evaluation and rediscovery of local aspects, local economies and small-scale production models in a world dominated by globalization and top-down perspectives. In the global supply chain more risk factors favour production of items closer to the place of use (short chains) and with local raw materials. Moreover, the emergence of the ‘craft’ movement and the manufacture of craft products on a large scale created a wide demand for such niche products. These exclusive products are made by people and online communities who refuse to conform to the economic demands of mass production.
Photographer Kristof Vrancken, for example, searches for natural methods to develop photos. The anthotype procedure makes use of pure and natural ingredients, finding its origins in vegetal dying of fabrics and objects. The plants used for this process have a significant historical value. Far-reaching industrialization declined the use of many of these plants and chemical pigments replaced products such as colorants extracted from plants. The chemical variants are indeed easier and cheaper, but unfortunately with severe negative consequences for the environment. Developing pictures with local vegetable dyes, preferably found at the place where the photo was taken, creates an awareness of time, local resources and development. It forms a critical counterbalance to contemporary snapshot culture.
The Dutch Atelier NL makes proprietary products that show the richness of the earth and the value of local raw materials. Each material provides a different product and tells a different story. For MANUFACTUUR 3.0 Atelier NL maps the commodities present in Hasselt and Genk. Depending on the materials found, it examines whether or not to make clay or glassware (gin glasses) out of local sand.
Other examples seek to bring these developments together in a hybrid form of production. Modern technology can bring about a return of local production. In SUPERLOCAL, Andrea de Chirico develops production lines within a specific city context. Resources, equipment, techniques (Fab Labs) and labour are being connected within short cycling distance. Objects can thus be produced and the routes are available in an open production database.
There are proposals that lean towards a circular economy paradigm: the reuse of discarded stuff is the norm and the ‘waste’ concept belongs to the past. Circular thinkers predict a shift from ownership to use and from product to service. Rau Architects provides its offices with ‘lighting hours’ instead of lamps. Because the ownership of the resources (the lamps) lies with the producer, the concern for sustainable and economical usage becomes evident. The user pays for services instead of products. Since about 10 years, Rotor specialises in the material flows in industry and construction. The Brussels-based collective sees recovered building materials as delocalised and underused resources. In the framework of MANUFACTUUR 3.0, Rotor applies its expertise in the reuse of building materials on a large and professional level to research the possibilities of reusing materials of the Ford Genk site – a site with a great symbolic value to this exhibition.
MANUFACTUUR 3.0 thus contains both experimental examples of alternative production models (Henrique Nascimento, Hacking Households, Kristof Vrancken) and projects that have already shown their feasibility (Rotor, Eugenia Morpurgo, Atelier NL). Furthermore, attention is paid to the problematic of the current linear economy and the underlying neoliberal logic (Stijn Van Dorpe, Rotor).
One of the most compelling aspects of design is its experimental nature. Part of the process of experimentation is to run the risk of failure, but the lessons learnt can be just as constructive in the long term as successes. – Alice Rawsthorn
MANUFACTUUR 3.0 is part of a series of international exhibitions that Z33 has developed during the past few years around new ways of living and working in (small) urban contexts, for example The Machine (C-Mine, Genk, 2012), BIO 50 (Ljubljana, 2014), Beyond Food and Design (C-Mine, Genk, 2015) and Atelier LUMA (Arles, 2016-…). MANUFACTUUR 3.0 brings insights and questions from these projects to Hasselt and Genk and focuses on local resources and regional production. The qualities and possibilities of local resources are (re)discovered. In this context, products will be created that can develop into new ‘trademarks’ for the region.
The exhibition model of MANUFACTUUR 3.0, where designers and artists are invited to make new work in a three-month residency, evolves as a case study for experimental exhibition models in the new building of Z33. On the one hand, we invest in lasting collaborations with artists and designers who develop multiple long-term projects. On the other hand, the possibilities of artist residencies are being researched, and the focus lies not on end results or products, but on creation and production.
In the light of the adaptive reuse of the beguinage houses, MANUFACTUUR 3.0 also wants to show the potential of this place. It is a plea for an artistic and cultural implementation, in accordance with the ideas about the ‘productive city’ and the importance of urban spaces for creation and production.
Rather than presenting the object of design in the isolation of the white cube, the stage could be given to the full chain of ideas, materials, systems, and agents involved in the design, fabrication, and commercialisation of design objects, systems and frameworks – the ensemble cast of a play that thus far has been acted out behind the scenes, in silence. – Vera Sacchetti, Tamar Shafrir
The exhibition is a new type of manufacture, a production place where during a period of three months (October–December 2016), designers, artists and architects create new work based on alternative production scenarios. The focus shifts from presenting products as end result to showing processes. The exhibition takes the shape of a methodical and ever-changing whole. This shift from product to process is visible in the practice of many designers, and a comparable shift was taking place in the 1970s with the members of the Italian Radical Design movement, of which Superstudio, Ettore Sottsass and Archizoom were part. Many contemporary strategies show connections with the ideas of that time.
The visitor walks into the mental and creative space of designers and artists, and is challenged to look differently – not at a finished product, but into the preceding processes that often remain invisible. The dialogues and encounters between residents and visitors are elements in an experimental and largely unpredictable course. It requires an open mind of everyone involved.
The central theme is present at all levels. MANUFACTUUR 3.0 experiments with the total exhibition format: how can we produce alternatives that correspond to a changing society? This is valid also in respect to circularity and sustainability: how can exhibitions be connected? How can we establish lasting collaborations with artists and designers? The model of MANUFACTUUR 3.0 is compatible with the fact that designers and artists are constantly on the road and travel from residency to residency. This requires flexibility. Art and design practices are often aimed at other collaboration models and forms of knowledge exchange. They are part of a changing attitude and of a developing landscape of values. In this landscape we should reconsider which future is desirable, and what society and types of production we want to pursue.